Strong Political Liberalism

Law and Philosophy 43 (4):341-366 (2024)
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Public reason liberalism demands that political decisions be publicly justified to the citizens who are subjected to them. Much recent literature emphasises the differences between the two main interpretations of this requirement, justificatory and political liberalism. In this paper, I show that both views share structural democratic deficits. They fail to guarantee political autonomy, the expressive quality of law, and the justification to citizens, because they allow collective decisions made by incompletely theorised agreements. I argue that the result can only be avoided by changing public reason’s role in collective decision-making. Instead of incompletely theorised agreements, we should demand agreement both on the public reasons themselves and on the other premises that justify political decisions. In this way, it is always possible to point to a procedure-independent reason that justifies democratic decisions, and the reasoning of the state is public and contestable. Finally, I explain how this, in turn, implies that only political liberalism can be rescued—by accepting what I will call strong political liberalism. Modifying justificatory liberalism in the necessary way will inevitably open the door to an objectionable form of perfectionism.

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Henrik D. Kugelberg
London School of Economics

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